How Every HR Leader Can Be the Tipping Point for Transformation

By: Stephanie Porfiris, December 05 2020

“Each of you right now has an opportunity to be a tipping point of transformation in your organizations, truly.”

This is how best-selling author and renowned executive coach Keith Ferrazzi addresses the group of HR leaders.

“You have a choice,” he says. “You can inch forward for the next 18 months, but…there’s a wind at our back. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that.”

Keith Ferrazzi

If there’s one thing that’s clear when talking to Keith, it’s that he believes that every single person in an organization, and HR leaders especially has the ability  to be the catalyst of extreme transformation, if we can only stop making excuses, and see it as our responsibility to do so.

In this group coaching session, Keith shared with our attendees a few powerful techniques that have the potential to change entire enterprises for the better. 

Engineer Behaviour

Keith is a proponent of something called “behaviour engineering”. Conventionally, it refers to using analysis to identify issues associated with the technology interfaces, but it can also be applied to human behaviour to help leaders identify the strengths and limitations of human operators. 

Once those are identified, leaders can do a simple gap analysis to determine what, exactly, needs to change. 

Start with these questions: 

  1. What does the world of work look like in 5 years?
  2. What are people doing now?
  3. What needs to be different for us to hit that mark?

“Set the goal, and then ask the question, who needs to radically change their behaviour for this to occur?” says Keith.

Looking at those questions, a face may have popped into your head. And, yes, it may have been an executive. 

“Many organizations are using agile, but probably not the executive team level. It’s a critical idea to be transformative if we can run monthly and weekly sprints even at that level. Making sure your leaders know how to be agile leaders.”

If they aren’t capable, it’s time to bring in new blood.

Get rid of toxic behaviour

Stop enabling gossip. When an employee comes to you with grief over a colleague, you can listen and support, but make it clear that you’re there to help them solve their problem. Not to fix the problem for them, and certainly not to condone gossip for gossip’s sake.

“Anyone is allowed to talk behind someone’s back, as long as it’s one step away from saying it to their face.”

Leverage breakouts for truth-gathering. It can be tricky for team members to step out on a limb when they feel alone. To get them into the practice of being direct and courageous, interrupt your own meetings when you feel there’s something that’s not being said.

“Tell everyone you’re taking a break, and send them into groups of two to have a dialogue for five minutes. Tell them up front that everyone’s going to report back on what’s not being said.”

Once you’ve done that a few times, they’ll start to believe that you want honest feedback.

Have a safe word. Choose a word, any word, to signify when a conversation is about to get real. Keith’s go-to is Yoda. Once you’ve chosen yours, train your team that you (and they) can use it whenever they want to signify that a conversation is about to get real.

“When someone wants to speak the truth but are afraid, they say “yoda moment” and that means they’re going to say something risky. They’re asking permission to take a bold stand.”


Having a word can give everyone a heads up, set expectation, and allow people to reach a common understanding that whatever comes next is intended as bold but constructive feedback.

Introduce “Bullet Proof Moments”. This comes in handy when you want to tackle something that’s really important, and need to ensure that everyone present is fully present and engaged.

Tell people at the start of your meeting to pay close attention because you’ll be conducting a ‘bullet proof moment’ at the end. Then, near the end of the meeting, send people into breakout rooms of three and ask three questions:

  1. What risks is this person not seeing?
  2. What innovations/ideas would they benefit from if they heard them?
  3. What help or support can you give this person?

Have them write the answers in a document and report back for fortify the work that’s been done.

Try Anonymous Polling. Keith points out that not all temperature checks need to be complicated, and with age of remote work it can be as simple as introducing an anonymous poll in the middle of a meeting. Ask a direct, honest questions like, “do you think this meeting is a waste of time?” or “who should be here, but isn’t?”

Small adjustments, big differences

Keith has a few additional tips to contribute when it comes to transformational change, all of which can be implemented with very light lift on the part of HR.

Celebrate (and don’t). Celebration is critical. Keith believes that leaders need to stop worrying about leading individuals, and focusing instead on making team more effective.

“People should be told in advance to come to the room once a month with a person they’d like to call out for being disproportionately generous to someone on the team.”

If you create an in-group, or what Keith calls an ‘us’, based on very positive principles, like care, intimacy, support, and celebration, then it starts to be glaringly obvious to everyone who doesn’t fit in it.

Check In. Keith recommends starting each meeting (or one meeting/dat) with a personal and profesisonal check in. Have everyone spend 2 minutes on an update. If it’s a big team (15 people or more), organize small breakouts.

There are two reasons for this. Of course, it will lift the energy of the person being celebrating. But the second benefit (what Keith refers to as a ‘Judo Move’ is that if there are people whose name never gets mentioned, they’ll start to notice.

Have a gratitude circle. At the end of meetings, Keith suggests doing a gratitude circle, focusing specifically on the gratitude outcomes of that meeting, rather than life in general. what are you grateful for from the meeting

It may seem intimidating, but Keith is adamant that transformational change is in the purvue of every HR leader, and it can start with something simple.

For now, just focus on this: make your next meeting better.

It could be the start of something very big.